A foolproof guide to protecting your plant babies
JASMIN LINTON (SHE/HER) // CONTRIBUTOR
TOBIN ELIAS (HE/HIM) // ILLUSTRATOR
Have you ever wanted to get a plant but had no idea where to start? Maybe you’ve been given one and want to take care of it, or you are already a dedicated plant parent and one of your babies is sick. It’s no secret that plants can be a lot of work, especially for beginners with a schedule full of responsibilities, extracurriculars and other demanding tasks.
Today, all your questions about how to take care of your plant babies will be answered, and your worries will wilt away. Here are just a few tips and tricks to help you take care of your first plant or tend to the wilting ones you’ve been neglecting.
In order to succeed, it’s important to not go overboard all at once. Though a bedroom full of lush greenery is usually the goal, start with one or two low-maintenance plants that won’t disturb an already busy routine. Some good beginner plants include pothos, snake plant and ivy. All of these guys are easy-to-please plants, so there shouldn’t be much trouble fussing with types of soil, amount of water or how much attention you should be giving them.
However, plants are picky; some prefer the sun, some the shade and some like a mix of both. If you live somewhere that has lots of sun throughout the day, try a strawberry begonia or jasmine plant (my personal favourite). If you live in residence or a basement suite, a better choice would be either a parlor palm or ivy plant; these don’t mind the shade or lack of sun. Looking for a plant that likes both? Try a pothos or snake plant.
Once you are set on a plant and where it will live, it’s time to get the rest of the equipment to properly tend to it. Soil type is important and will usually differ from plant to plant. Some plants prefer a more acidic blend, whereas others require alkaline soils, which have a higher pH balance. A good place to start is a regular indoor potting mix and go from there. To get soil and plants relatively cheaply, try stores like Home Depot or Walmart. There are also many local shops, and plant shop owners are always incredibly excited to share their knowledge. So, make sure to ask away if you’re curious about anything.
To keep your plant happy and healthy, it’s important to know what to do when it gets sick. The usual issues to look out for are overwatering, underwatering and one of the most common: the plant has outgrown its pot. Everyday items — that you probably have at home already — can be used as fertilizer to help get your baby back to normal. One cheap option is coffee grounds. Instead of throwing them out, sprinkle some on the top soil around the plant. It will help improve drainage and aeration in the soil, and will also be adding organic material to it. It’s important to only fertilize used coffee grounds. Unwashed, fresh grounds are too acidic for most plants and will end up doing more harm than good.
Just as important as the soil is your choice of pot. Pots may be an aesthetic choice, so it’s good to understand that different materials require different things before you make your decision. Pots made from terracotta are more porous than ceramic or plastic, so plants in terracotta or clay pottery will need a more frequent watering schedule.
For any type of pot, make sure to have drainage at the bottom. This will allow the roots to breathe. Fill the bottom 4th or 3rd with small-ish rocks, and then pour soil on top before planting. Drainage will help with issues such as root rot, which is caused by overwatering and/or pots that are too small.
Over and underwatering is going to be more common if you’re starting out as a beginner. A good way to tell when your plants are in need of a drink is to poke your finger about an inch deep into the soil. If it’s dry, it needs a drink. To make sure that your plants are regularly tended to, a good rule of thumb is to water one to two times a week. Just be aware that this will depend on the type of plant; a cactus is not going to need the same amount of water as a pothos.
For many, plants can be a starting point to taking on more responsibility. It might be a trial run before getting a pet, or you just want to brighten up your room. Whatever the reason, remember: mistakes are normal when starting out with anything. Don’t be discouraged! You are bound to kill a few plants in your time, especially in the beginning. The trick is to stick with it and the payoff will be well worth it.